I am someone who does not enjoy having my photo taken. At all. When I look at photos of myself I feel the same way native Americans used to, that the process somehow steals my soul.
You see photos do not portray how I see myself, which is as much more than my mere exterior. They don’t show my heart, my soul, my gratitude or my warmth. Just the skin I’m in.
But over the years, I have been forced to have my photo taken for my job or to promote a book or story I’ve written. Out of many rolls of film taken, I usually only like one or two frames and they are usually outtakes when I have not been posing, showing me laughing or smiling at someone out if view. In other words, where I am not looking like a startled fawn in the headlights of a ute full of pissed up rednecks with shotguns.
But even with such judicial editing, the same message comes from the photographer and/or art director after selection, “Great. We’ll get to work on it.” This “work” entails the photo being airbrushed and photoshopped in to a caricature of myself; one with smooth skin, tamed hair, no crows feet and, should the shot be full length, streamlined arms and thighs that don’t rub together.
Editors claim they do this to sell magazines. They believe that by making someone appear as attractive as is humanly and technically possible, they create an image that is aspirational, something they claim their readers want.
Now, I have been one of these editors spouting such bull and remain ashamed to have done so to this day. Because what I was really doing spinning this line was making women feel inferior, urging them to aspire to the unachievable. In other words, selling my sisters down the river.
And so, when I was told my photo would be “enhanced” the last time, I decided enough.
I swallowed my vanity and I stood up for myself, insisting the image be used in its original state. I figured that I had already had make-up expertly applied, a hairdresser tending my hair, flattering studio lighting and a professional photographer at the lens. Surely, if that can’t make me acceptable enough for publication, then I shouldn’t be in the magazine in the first place. I am not a model, I am a writer. If my words are good enough to print, then so is the face of the woman who wrote them without being rendered a veritable painting.
And so, if you look close at my photo you will see a wonky eye with lots of lines framing it. My skin is not perfectly smooth or clear. My chin is as it sits on my face, not trimmed or “shaved down”. There are lines around my lips, which remain their true shape and size. It’s the real me, albeit with more make up than normal. See me in the street and you will be able to recognise me from this photo.
This is not the case with other women I know and certainly celebrities I have met. Their “real” faces are nowhere near as perfect as their photographed impressions, often despite having succumbed the blight that is Botox. The salient fact is that no one’s is.
Lena Dunham is a woman who has made her mark on this world by not only being a talented writer and actress, but one who is actually happy in her skin. And like me, she wants to remain as authentic as possible and will fight to do so, recently declaring she has insisted on a no Photoshop policy.
The 29 year-old says she’s “done with allowing images that retouch and reconfigure my face and body to be released into the world,” after a Spanish magazine, Tenataciones, published a tampered-with photo of her on its cover.
“Something snapped when I saw that Spanish cover,” Dunham writes on her Lenny Letter website. “Maybe it was the feeling of barely recognising myself and then being told it was 100 percent me but knowing it probably wasn’t and studying the picture closely for clues. Maybe it was realizing that was an image I had at some point seen, approved, and most likely loved. Maybe it was the fact that I no longer understand what my own thighs look like. But I knew that I was done.
“Not done with getting my picture taken… but done with allowing images that retouch and reconfigure my face and body to be released into the world. The gap between what I believe and what I allow to be done to my image has to close now. If that means no more fashion-magazine covers, so be it. I respect the people who create those magazines and the job they have to do. I thank them for letting me make a few appearances and for making me feel gorgeous along the way. But I bid farewell to an era when my body was fair game.”
Dunham later discovered the cover image she refers to had been Photoshopped before the magazine received it, something I believe to be true. As an editor, I would see an image of a particular celebrity or model in an international magazine and buy the rights to run it in Australia. I might be showing my age but back in the days of supermodels, such photographs would arrive in a large transparency format film.
I recall holding one such transparency up to the light and noting that there was barely a millimetre of the photo, which had not been doctored. I’m talking about a photo showing the most celebrated models of the time at the height of their beauty and still they had not so much as been touched up by touched all over. Their skin, hair, eyes, bodies…. everything was altered.
Watch: Wendy Squires previously worked at CLEO with Mia Freedman. Watch Mia discussing the magazine here. Post continues below.
If the most beautiful women on the planet are still not perfect enough, then what chance do we mere mortals have?
The answer is none and so, I believe, we have to embrace what we really are. And that means in real life and captured moments on film. Let’s flick the filters and Photoshop and show others our authentic selves. Surely the most aspirational image we can project is that of a woman who is happy in her own skin, flaws and all?
As Cindy Crawford famously explained of her image, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.”
Well, I wake up every day looking like Wendy Squires. What’s more, I have the photos to prove it.